The struggle for St Paul’s
The anti-capitalist protest outside the gates of St Paul’s has sparked a moral battle inside the cathedral.
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious and Media Affairs Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
7:00AM GMT 30 Oct 2011
With protesters’ drums pounding outside, they bowed their heads in prayer, appealing for divine guidance in deciding whether to evict the camp outside their walls.
But, by the end of the meeting last Wednesday, it was clear that their differences were irreconcilable and that their pleas to remain united were futile.
The split tearing apart the nation’s church was not just damaging its reputation, but leaving its staff exhausted.
Martin Fletcher, the clerk of the works, who had given the initial advice for the cathedral to close, had been rushed to hospital in an ambulance after collapsing from stress. He is still on sick leave.
The Rev Canon Dr Giles Fraser, the Canon Chancellor, became the first casualty of the battle, resigning from the Chapter on Thursday in protest at the decision to support the City of London Corporation in taking legal action to evict the protesters.
“The cathedral is set on a course of action which could lead to violence in the name of the Church,” he said.
It was a decision he had agonised over, but, he says, he was left with no choice. “I loved it there. It is a great place and I have great colleagues, but there was no way I could stay there once they went down that road. People are taking different stands, and I’m taking mine.”
A colourful maverick, he is not shy of the limelight, but with a wife, Sal, and three school-age children, this stand has come at a considerable personal cost.
“This has been the most stressful week of my life,” he says. “I’ve no idea what we’re going to do next.”
According to insiders, his departure will not be missed by everyone.
“This is a very conservative place, where no one wants to rock the boat, and no one is bigger than the team,” says one cathedral source.
One figure who is understood to have taken a particularly dim view of Canon Fraser’s outbursts is the cathedral’s registrar, Nicholas Cottam, a retired Major-General.
He has, so far, managed to keep a low profile, but he is described as “the power behind the throne”, and central to convincing the dean to support evicting the protesters.
Having served as a Commanding Officer in Northern Ireland in the early Nineties, he is said to have acted as an enforcer who didn’t like the clergy stepping out of line.
“He runs the cathedral like an army operation and sees the canons as his troops who should follow orders and not speak out of turn,” says one insider.
The Dean and his former Canon Chancellor only live a few houses apart, but they have been pulled in different directions, with Dean Knowles being leant on by senior political and ecclesiastical figures, in addition to his registrar.
As Canon Fraser argued for the size of the camp to be reduced through negotiation, the Dean is understood to have already been told by Mayor Boris Johnson that he hoped the cathedral would back stronger action.
Senior figures at the City of London Corporation had decided that the protesters must be evicted, and backing from the cathedral Chapter was the last touch needed to give it moral authority.
As the fallout from the Chapter’s poor handling of the row has descended into an embarrassing debacle, it has cast the Church in an unflattering light.
The canons have been accused of selling out to the wishes of politicians rather than carrying out their gospel duties to care for the poor and downtrodden.
Others are incredulous that a great symbol of London has been closed for the first time since the Blitz because of health and safety concerns posed by the camp.
The Rt Rev Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, said that it was not just the public who were bemused by the closure.
“Cathedral deans I’ve spoken to are mystified as to why they would do it,” he said. “It’s made them look like idiots. Anyone who looks at the camp can see that it is complete nonsense to claim that it was done for health and safety.”
The health and safety report published on Monday listed “rope/guy-lines” and rodents among potential dangers posed by the presence of the camp.
Sources close to the Dean say that he was baffled as soon as he saw how weak the evidence was, and moved to have the building reopened as quickly as possible.
The cathedral charges £14.50 for entry and, with its restaurant and gift shop also shut, is estimated to have lost more than £100,000 in the week it was closed.
While the cathedral has been criticised for introducing a fee for visitors, the money is vital for its £8 million-a-year running costs.
On Friday, it was reopened with a well-attended service, but even as the Dean led the procession to the altar, dismay was growing outside at the announcement that the cathedral was backing plans to have the protesters evicted.
“I am left feeling embarrassed by the position the Dean and Chapter have taken,” he said. “I do not relish the prospect of having to defend the cathedral’s position in the face of the inevitable questions that visitors to St Paul’s will pose in the coming months, particularly if we are to see protesters forcibly removed by police at the Dean and Chapter’s behest.”
His resignation may not be the last. Canon Mark Oakley, the treasurer, who voted with Canon Fraser against evicting the protesters, expressed his disquiet yesterday that the Chapter’s decision could lead to violence.
Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has spoken out at the damage being caused to the Church’s reputation, but Dr Rowan Williams, the current incumbent of Lambeth Palace, has remained silent. A social radical in his youth who was arrested in 1985 for his involvement in a CND demonstration outside a US air force base, it is likely that his sympathy would lie with the protesters.
Away in Italy for the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace, he has sent a message to Canon Fraser to say that he is in his prayers.
There might also be those who suggest he says a prayer for the cathedral’s press office too, considering the negative coverage received.
It is currently advertising for a new press and communications manager.
“This position is responsible for… building awareness of all aspects of the life of St Paul’s within the media. Commitment, flexibility, initiative and a sense of humour are essential,” it says. Given the events of the last month, this is something of an understatement.
Whatever the Press has to say about the stand-off at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, it seem a little unfair that blame is laid at the door of the Archbishop of Canterbury for not jumping into the furore that has been caused by the threat to oust Protesters from Cathedral vicinity. The ABC was on an inter-Church visit to Assisi – to meet with the Pope and other religious Leaders.
However, I saw that his predecessor, Lord Carey, had something to say on the subject. NOT too surprising! He seems to have quite a bit to say on many things nowadays – one of the latest was his statement that he felt the Christian Church in England is being persecuted! When one hears of the real persecution of the Copts in Egypt, one wonders what he means!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand